What exactly is it? A unique dining experience, this 120-year-old restored Dutch barge has been moored in Hackney Wick since 2018. In four years, it’s transformed its stretch of canal with picturesque gardens, alfresco bars and assorted streetfood options. But the boat’s sheer cosiness makes it perfect for winter, too.
Is it tiny inside? It’s compact – after all it’s a historic barge – seating a few dozen people, plus there’s a deck if you fancy the bracing winter air, and a couple of private dining rooms. Tip: try to bag the two-seater opposite the tiny open kitchen to watch the chefs at work.
I’m peckish now. Well, seasonal menus and cocktail specials feature handpicked homegrown ingredients from its gardens: it doesn’t get more local than that. And this hyper-locality adds to the all-round deliciousness. As we discovered, the zero-waste cooking, headed up by Italian chef Stefano Camplone, is flawless, whether it’s petite starters of ham hock and pistachio terrine with radicchio and smooth ajo blanco (below), or sweet, nutty roasted pumpkin with watercress oil and umami-laden miso dukka.
Meanwhile, standout mains included rosy salt-aged duck breast with a really savoury slow-cooked duck leg, and blackened hispi cabbage dotted with blobs of liver pate. Another tip: don’t miss a side of sensational crispy potato terrine with dijonnaise.
It’s also the kind of place where you’ll get a sort of deconstructed chocolate orange – parfait with citrus-heavy kumquat and apricot – that’ll be swiftly gone in seconds. And yet, because of the sheer quality of the cooking, it wasn’t even a highlight.
So what was the best dish? There were two: first, pan-fried cod (above right), its skin crispy, straddled seaweed dumplings strewn in a moreish seaweed beurre blanc. Sweet, caramelly notes of Catalogna chicory cream, the plant’s edible leaves and stalks finished the dish. Second, a deep-fried brioche dessert matched sweet and savoury exquisitely, paired with quince puree, caramelised walnuts, candied celery and a slab of smooth, creamy Aschombe cheese.
Wine? After a gin fizz made with herbs from the gardens – a subtle note of lemon verbena – a reliable Beaujolais worked admirably across the fish and meat dishes.
Anything else we should know? It’s a treat place; thus perfect for date night. The cheapest option is Saturday lunch (two courses at £33, three at £37), while evening menus are £45 for four courses. Service is friendly, laidback and knowledgeable, too. Ask the chef a question – and he’ll enthuse about his answer, too.
Leytonstoner ate as guests of Barge East.